GE2020: Lee Kuan Yew once 'shot down' my 'Singaporeans First' job policy – PSP's Tan Cheng Bock

Wong Casandra
·Senior Reporter
·6-min read
Dr Tan Cheng Bock (left) and the late Lee Kuan Yew. (PHOTOS: Joseph Nair for Yahoo News Singapore, AP file photo)
Dr Tan Cheng Bock (left) and the late Lee Kuan Yew. (PHOTOS: Joseph Nair for Yahoo News Singapore, AP file photo)

SINGAPORE — Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he was once “shot down” and “taken to task” by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for proposing that the government should prioritise jobs for Singaporeans over foreigners.

“There was one issue I stood very firmly and that was the issue of our Singaporeans losing the jobs during that time – there were financial crises and so on,” said Dr Tan on Monday (6 July) night during the party’s e-rally.

The eighty-year-old had first brought up his “Singaporeans First” policy in 1999.

“I insisted that we should think Singaporeans first...when the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) were losing their jobs to foreigners, and I was also a little bit upset so I went to the House,” he added during the two-hour-plus event, which was streamed online on PSP’s Facebook page and video-conferencing tool Zoom.

Dr Tan had served previously as a Member of Parliament (MP) for single-seat Ayer Rajah – part of West Coast GRC since 2006 – for 26 years while he was a People's Action Party (PAP) member. He left the party in 2011, before running for the Presidential Election in the same year.

He noted it was a difficult period for him when he pushed for the policy. “Because my belief was shot down by none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was very crossed with me because he felt that I am not following the party line.”

Citing a debate he had with George Yeo – the then Trade and Industry Minister – on the issue in Parliament, Dr Tan pointed out that Yeo said he “was sending the wrong signals to the foreigners by seeing things Singaporean first”.

“But I said no, you are sending the wrong signal to our people, you're taking the wrong signal to Singaporeans,” he elaborated.

On the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) scheme, Dr Tan reiterated that he was against its implementation when it was mooted in Parliament, voting against the PAP despite the party whip.

“I felt that anyone who wants to be an MP should go by the proper way – that is to seek a mandate from the people, get elected and then go into Parliament,” he said of the scheme, which was introduced in 1990.

“You cannot just walk into Parliament, not having been elected, and be one to speak for the people. And true enough, my fear that this scheme will ultimately be used by sector for sectarian representation (came true)”.

Dr Tan, who is leading a five-member team to contest West Coast group representation constituency (GRC), was speaking ahead of his teammates: assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai, 60; Jeffrey Khoo, 51; PSP vice-chairman Hazel Poa, 50; and Loganathan Nadarajah, 57.

Leong noted that the leaders from the ruling party are mainly from the public sector, and “increasingly, also from the military”.

“We have a national leadership that has little experience in the running of the economy and society. Our team is ready to serve you, with our expertise accumulated from private-sector careers,” he added.

Poa highlighted the widening gap between the rich and poor, and spoke about measures to reduce inequality.

“We are proposing more subsidies for healthcare for example, for Medishield Life premiums to be paid by the government.”

On the government’s plans to raise the Goods & Services Tax (GST) from seven to nine per cent – expected to take place no earlier than 2022 and by 2025 – Poa said it makes “no sense”. “We're saying no to a GST increase and we would like basic necessities to be exempted from it.”

Calling for a realistic balance between the government savings and the household savings, she added, “We should be spending more on social programs to help families because right now there really is a great disparity in the financial strength of households versus the government.”

Loganathan reiterated the party’s call for “compulsory prioritisation of Singaporeans over foreign talent”. Passes for foreign workers, such as S-passes and work permit passes, should be limited, he added.

“The benefit is you have less true unemployment, where people are employed in the sector they were trained to work in, rather than seeking employment through Grab or whatever else,” he added.

Khoo noted that while the topic of climate change is not in the party’s manifesto, it is at the “top of our minds”.

“This election came at a time that it shouldn't come; it was something that didn't give us a runway in terms of talking about climate change,” he added. “Hopefully, you will vote for us into Parliament, and probably in a couple of months’ time, we can come up with something that is more carefully crafted to sure that jobs are still protected.”

Leong proposed that the government should have a clearer policy with regards to electric vehicles. He emphasised that the party’s principle in their approach to climate change is in line with its general view that money should not be wasted on mega projects.

“We are not in favour of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tackling climate change. We think that we should be tackling the problems from a lot of the other policies that we are recommending (from) a ground-up approach.”

The PSP team is up against a PAP team led by Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, 58, who has been a West Coast GRC MP since 1997, and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, 43.

They are joined by two-term MP Foo Mee Har, 54; Ang Wei Neng, 53, and new face Rachel Ong, 47. Both Lee and Ang were moved from Jurong GRC.

The PAP team is one of two comprising two full ministers. The other is in the team contesting Tanjong Pagar GRC led by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah.

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